UAW loses 13,000 members

The United Auto Workers (UAW) lost 13,000 members in the last year, according to filings the union made to the Labor Department. The UAW said it had 370,000 members at the end of last year, down from 383,000 in 2022. It’s the lowest level the union has reported in a decade and a half. As recently as 2018, the UAW could boast 430,000 members.

The filings don’t indicate the specific cause for the loss, but the broader labor movement has been bleeding members for decades. Currently only 10 percent of the overall US workforce is unionized according to the Labor Department, down from 11 percent in 2014 and 12.5 percent in 2004.

The UAW’s losses are nevertheless surprising. The union has been getting a lot of favorable media coverage lately, most of it indicating that the union is undergoing a revival.

This began when the union led a “strike against Ford, GM, and Stellantis, the owner of the Chrysler, last year. It was by no means a traditional strike. At no point over its nearly eight weeks did more than 30 percent of UAW members go to the picket lines. Most of the plants owned by the three manufacturers remained open and operating.

The UAW spun this to reporters as a novel strategy and declared victory when the auto makers made concessions marginally higher than their original offers. The media bought the spin, declaring it a “historic victory.”

The UAW last month also won a closely-watched bid to organize 4,300 workers at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant that it had tried twice previously tried to organize. The Wall Street Journal declared the win a “pivotal moment in the UAW’s organizing blitz in the South’s booming auto industry.” The UAW is currently engaged in a similar bid to organize 5,000 workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

Even if the UAW wins in Alabama, the combined 9,300 new members will still leave it well short of where it was last year in total membership. Meanwhile the historic deal with the automakers was followed by layoffs of 400 workers at Stellantis across March and April and 1,300 workers by GM in late December. (It’s not clear whether the 13,000 members reported lost by UAW in 2023 includes the GM layoffs, which may have come too late to be included in the year-end figure).

One thing that the strikes did accomplish was burning up a lot of the UAW’s funds. The union’s “disbursements,” i.e., spending, went from $307 million in 2022, according to the federal fillings, to $470 million last year. The main reason for the spike was that the UAW paid out $152 million in strike benefits last year, up from just $46 million the previous year. The strikes, even as limited as they were, still cost the union substantially.

To offset this, the UAW has apparently increased the dues rank and file members must pay. The union doesn’t declare what the regular fee for members is even though there’s a section in the form the union filed where they’re supposed to list that. The UAW put “n/a,” for “not applicable” in that column. However, the union’s revenue for 2023 includes $191 million from “per capita tax,” the term unions use for membership dues. That’s up from $181 million in 2022 when the union had 13,000 more members, indicating it increased the rate for individual members. The back of the envelope math says that membership dues went from $473 annually in 2022 to $516 last year.

The bottom line is that the UAW is losing members at a faster rate than they’re gaining them, charging the remaining members more, and burning through that cash at a faster rate. That’s not a sustainable path for a union. It certainly doesn’t indicate a revival.